By Kent Karnofski
“I love radio. Finding new music has always been a part of my life, and in the past, the richest eras of new music have always included good radio.”
That was DJ Barnabas talking about Community Noise, his one-hour radio program on KBFG, 107.3 FM, serving Ballard, Fremont, and Greenwood. Hunkered down in isolation, the coronavirus ablaze out in the world, we enjoyed a virtual chat. We talked about his show, the radio station, and the art of finding new music.
Kent: Tell us about Community Noise.
DJ Barnabas: Community Noise is a place to find and share music. It first aired in January 2019. We produce a new show almost every week, and then it airs twice: Wednesday at 7 pm with a repeat on Saturday morning at 11:00. Community Noise has its roots in punk and other forms of pop music, and now we’re learning a lot about neo-classical and explorative forms, and we look for ways to connect all of those different forms.
KK: Is there a driving inspiration for your show?
DJB: I was watching Brian Eno interviews a few years ago. He’s a great interview: good speaker. Engaging. Smart. He was talking about algorithms; If you listen to music via some streaming service these algorithms are pushing music to you that sounds like what you just finished. That’s a great way to get into a rut!
Eno recommends we need an “opposite algorithm” that suggests, “hey, if you liked that song, perhaps you’d like to try this other song way over here that’s completely different.” That was inspiring. Now we ask ourselves the question, for every episode of Community Noise, “how many different dimensions can we cram into one hour of programming?” My roots are mostly in punk rock other forms of pop music and I realized that I needed to branch out more. I still love punk and seek out new punk bands, so now I pair The Clash and Goat Girl with Kin of the Moon and Eighth Blackbird; I sprinkle in spoken word, maybe some Kerouac. Nobody else does that.
KK: So, Community Noise offers something that other radio shows do not?
DJB: I feel like I have an unusual mix on my show. I hope others enjoy it. It’s a hobby, so it’s important that I enjoy it. I think my show demonstrates that a great variety of forms of music can be a part of somebody’s life.
I’ve become really interested in what the practitioners call “new music”, “neo-classical”, or “explorative” music. Some classically trained musicians want to branch out from the traditional orchestras and maybe re-interpret Bach with just a marimba. Modern composers want to put together unusual ensembles and write pieces for them to play. I am finding beautiful and imaginative works. There is great innovation in this space, with arrangements, compositions, electronic loops, and field recordings; “prepared instruments” ala John Cage’s prepared piano is part of the mix. Innovation rules in the new music space.
KK: Who is your target audience?
DJB: I think my show is for people that like to listen to music. My shows have a lot of good and great music that a lot of people will like, and there will be material that challenges some people. And it’s OK to be challenged.
KK: How do you fit together all the “different dimensions” that you try to accommodate? Are there segues?
DJB: I’m learning that great music finds its own way. If two songs are back-to-back that I don’t think fit together well, I can talk in between; I find that sort of break works well. Sometimes I’ll find great pairings that I think work well.
KK: Give us an example of a pairing of songs that stood out for you.
DJB: I paired The Ramones “Teenage Lobotomy” with a children’s song by Steve Allen explaining the cerebellum’s function in the human brain.
KK: Steve Allen, the 1950’s talk show host?
DJB: Yeah, right. He did this kid’s album about how the brain works and about emotions and stuff. He plays piano and sings simple songs. It’s beautiful in a sort of corny way. I was disappointed when I learned the actual location and function of the cerebellum, while a lobotomy is about the frontal cortex and its functions. I always thought you could find the truth in punk rock, but The Ramones just made a rhyme. (I guess I’ll have to tell ’em / That I got no cerebellum)
KK: Maybe the truth in punk rock is more allegorical?
DJB: Yes! Something like that.
DJB: Another example: I put back-to-back “We’re Going to Be Friends” by the White Stripes and “Blues and Greens” by the Pixies. The two songs could not be more different perspectives on budding friendships; one written by Jack White and one by Black Francis – White and Black. White singing, “I can tell that we are going to be friends” and Black singing, “I’m wasting your time, just talking to you; Maybe best you go on home” … wow. Could not be more different. Both useful and true-to-life in exactly divergent ways: black and white. Excellent DJing!
KK: Where do you find new music?
DJB: My ears are always open! If I hear something, I notice and ask myself, “should that be a part of Community Noise?” If I go to a live show (pre-pandemic), I’ll introduce myself to the artist and ask if they want to donate a piece to my radio show. I sometimes troll on the community newsletter at www.LiveMusicProject.org. I listen to other people’s shows. Sometimes I just take chances at the record shop. One local store has an “unclassifiable” bin near the “modern composers” section – a goldmine of great stuff! Ela Orleans was a major find!!
KK: If people want to share their music with KBFG or Community Noise, what should they do?
DJB: Contact us. You can contact me directly at [email protected] You can contact the station music curators at [email protected] You can submit music directly at the station’s website: https://fulcrumcc.org/participate/submit/. If people want to submit music to Community Noise via the web portal, they can, but they should also contact me so I know to go find it.
KK: What else should people know about KBFG?
DJB: It’s a great bunch of dedicated people. It’s all volunteer with a small budget. People are working hard on their shows and people are working hard behind the scenes to keep the station running. We have good programming, too – I’ve been surprised by the quality of our shows and the creativity people bring to their shows.
We are particularly dedicated to local music and local issues. If you are a local musician and want to submit your music, then you should contact us. If you have a local issue you think our public affairs programming should address, contact us. We are interested.
KK: Are there volunteer opportunities if people want to get involved?
DJB: Absolutely. We are always looking for new on-air talent to create new shows. If people want to work behind the scenes, we have archived content that needs to be edited into shows. We need a social media maven; we need help in marketing, advertising, and outreach. We need a webmaster. We sometimes have legal questions — about copyright and trademark law or tax law – maybe there’s a lawyer out there wanting to offer some pro bono work
Basically, anything you might imagine a non-profit or a radio station needing help with, we invite your help. Send us an email at [email protected] and tell us what you want to do. Of course, if you do not have time to volunteer with us, we always need donations. We can help you with that, too.
KK: Do people need special experience to volunteer? Had you worked in radio before?
DJB: Nope. I never worked in radio before or made a podcast or recorded my voice for use, nothing like that. Staff at KBFG can teach and tutor and nudge everything you need to know. Software tools are free. To get started, you only need free time and the will to learn; come work with us!
KK: Neat! Anything you want to say that we haven’t talked about yet?
DJB: (there’s a long pause and a blank stare) Well, over the past few decades, commercial radio has merged, consolidated, “optimized” to become a giant wasteland of nothing: old music and new commercials. Non-profit radio is the oasis, and Seattle is loaded with great non-profit radio. KBFG contributes to that oasis. We hope people find us, listen to us, and learn to love us.
KK: Hey, how come you don’t help me write blog pieces at CommunityNoise.blog?
DJB: You are the writer, I am the voice.
Low-power FM is a recent innovation in radio, with US government legislation in 2010 allowing neighborhood-based, non-profit FM radio. North Seattle’s KBFG (Ballard-Fremont-Greenwood) acquired their license and commenced broadcasting in Fall 2017. KBFG now broadcasts 24/7 and have a studio in the Jack Straw Cultural Center. Their roster of on-air talent exceeds 20 people. Their ever-growing digital music library contains over 25,000 titles and each week they play at least 90 hours of purely local music.
Kent Karnofski has lived in Seattle for most of his adult life, growing up during the pre-grunge years attending the University of Washington. By day he is a mathematician and engineer, by night he is an extraordinary audiophile. He is the primary contributor at www.CommunityNoise.blog; you may contact him at [email protected].